Forget all about the age-reversing hocus-pocus that’s going on during “17 Again.” The real fantasy at play in this picture is the concept that Zac Efron is supposed to be the younger version of Matthew Perry. Sure. If you can hurdle that whopper, “17 Again” is a generously spirited comedy that’s more victorious as a debutant ball for Efron’s big screen career than a true gut-buster. The picture charms easily and makes a decent pass at a heart. Considering the director and the iffy premise, I think the idea of “17 Again” being anything other than migraine-inducing is worth a few minutes of applause and smiley reflection.
Frustrated with the failure of his life and his marriage to high school sweetheart Scarlett (Leslie Mann), Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry, in a brief cameo) makes an audible wish to be young again, desperate for a chance to reboot his life. The wish is magically granted by a spirit guide (a Santa-like Brian Doyle-Murray), turning Mike back into a teenager (Zac Efron). Seeking the help of geeky friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), Mike elects to enroll in the same high school as his children (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg) to keep an eye on his family. Looking to instill his son with confidence and keep his daughter away from a lothario, Mike starts to insinuate himself back into his own house, eventually hoping to reconnect with Scarlett; however, his efforts strike the family as particularly strange, leaving Mike unable to comprehend why his wish was granted in the first place if he was destined to fail all over again.
While the temptation is there to label the feature as a body switching comedy along the likes of a backwards “Big,” “17 Again” isn’t aiming for a whimsical handle to the laughs. Under the direction of Burr Steers (the odious “Igby Goes Down”), “17 Again” is more at home within a sitcom arena, featuring a broad plot of cockeyed redemption to underscore the flashy comedic fireworks display. Steers mutes all his tendencies to smother the actors in stillborn affectations and lets the cast roll with the punches, permitting a harmless screenplay to be executed safely and often winningly. In the seven years it took Steers to follow-up “Igby,” he’s learned to trust his ensemble, allowing for generous spurts of glee to escape what is honestly an eye-rolling concept.
The plot concentrates on Mike’s foggy, befuddled path to salvation, but the film appears more infatuated with Efron and his performance elasticity. As bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as Efron was in the “High School Musical” pictures, his work in “17 Again” reveals a dazzling comedic presence and an overall ability to command a scene. Backed wonderfully by Mann, Lennon, and Melora Hardin (here stealing scenes as Mike’s principal and Ned’s nerdly object of affection), the film gives Efron a wide berth to just do his thing. And that thing seems to be the capacity to make a dusty screenplay shine with his gusto and silly portrayal of man-boy bewilderment, while throwing a few well-timed reactions around to beef up the laughs.
Efron keeps the film upbeat and eager to please, but it’s comforting to see “17 Again” not entirely turn its back on the inherent creepiness of a teen father spying on his teen kids. While dealing with bullies, basketball tryouts, and abundant caloric intake, Mike also has to confront burgeoning affection from his own daughter, a thorny consequence of his renewed attention to their romantic activites. Steers keeps the subplot nicely distanced and humorous, but the very appearance of such a twist demonstrates that “17 Again” has a delightful sense of mischief to share. Eventually the film devolves into third-act sniffles to ease the premise back onto solid ground, but a generous helping of actorly vitality and a dash of troublemaking elevates the picture away from its skim milk origin.
Philadelphia Daily News
"17 Again" puts Disney commodity Zac Efron into a recycled "Freaky Friday" plot and ends up with a surprisingly un-awful 'tween comedy.
Not that there isn't shameless pandering to the brand. The movie opens with Efron sweaty and shirtless, shooting baskets as he readies for a big hoops game, one that's delayed until he inexplicably joins the cheerleaders for a pre-game dance number.
Efron plays high school star Mike O'Donnell, about to play an important game in front of college recruiters. Then his sweetheart shows up, announces she's pregnant, and Mike walks off the court and into his new life as a reluctant father/husband.
Cut to middle age, when Mike has become Matthew Paunchy. Make that Perry. He's now an absentee father and husband on the cusp of divorce, angry that his glory days have yielded to dreary middle age.
Or perhaps he's angry that his chin has receded to his midsection. Perry doesn't look much like Efron, but there's some poignancy in the fact that Perry, not so long ago, also drew "oohs" from young women.
Anyway, Mike wishes he could go back to being young, popular, desirable (back to being Zac Efron), and so does every female member of the audience. The movie quickly accommodates this via a magical janitor who gives Mike what he thinks he wants.
So Efron re-appears as a middle-aged man back in a young man's body and in high school, where for the first time he gets to know his two teen children - one (Sterling Knight) is bullied by psycho jocks, the other (Michelle Trachtenberg) is dating one.
This is played for sit-com laughs, and Efron generally finds them. He can handle comedy, and he gets generous help in the background from comedy pros. Chief among them is "Reno 911" alum Thomas Lennon, playing a grown chum of Mike's who agrees to pose as his dad (and who functions as a comic example of what happens to boys who don't grow up).
Elsewhere, "17 Again" makes unexpectedly creepy use of Efron's heartthrob status - Manboy Mike finds he still has the hots for his wife (Leslie Mann), and the movie pushes that (mutual attraction) to weird lengths. "17 Again" doubles down on this angle when Trachtenberg develops a crush on the new kid in town - her dad.
"17 Again" is directed by Burr Steers, who made the darker prep school picture "Igby Goes Down." These movies have little in common, except a masochistic streak that has the main character getting his ass kicked at regular intervals.
I'm not sure what that's about, except that a movie with something for girls of every age may be tossing in something for babysitting dads, who blame Efron for the irksome phenomenon of boy bangs, and are rewarded here with a little wish fulfillment.
How much does a movie have to rise above my rock-bottom expectations to be considered good? 17 Again, the latest from Zac Efron, is a perfectly competent piece of nothingness that evaporates from memory once one leaves the theatre.
Only the second feature-length film from Burr Steers (a long way from the pseudo-Salinger Igby Goes Down), 17 Again revives the long-dormant body-switch subgenre briefly popular in the '80s.
Mike (Matthew Perry) is a frustrated office drone who missed out on his dream of becoming a star athlete when his wife (Leslie Mann) became pregnant in high school. On the verge of divorce, he tells a Magical Old Wise Man™ how much he wishes he had a second chance at life and wakes up the next morning to find himself back in his 17-year-old body, which, luckily for him, happens to look a lot like Zac Efron.
Enrolling in his old high school, Mike discovers that his son is deeply unpopular and his daughter is dating a jerk, and makes it his mission to improve their lives. He also finds himself wooing back his wife, which is a good strategy; I can think of not a single red-blooded woman who were prefer a puffy, middle-aged Matthew Perry to Zac Efron.
Perhaps I'm getting soft in my old age but I don't mind Efron. He won't be giving Sean Penn a run for his money but he's an affable screen presence. Incidentally, the film opens with an extended shot of Mr. Efron shirtless and oh, how envious I am.
The filmmakers were smart to surround him with capable comic actors: Perry has a way with frustrated snarkiness and Leslie Mann is likeable, if a little underused. Also, I sort of appreciated how the film allows teenagers to act like something vaguely resembling real teenagers — the film carries a PG-13 rating for some relatively matter-of-fact talk about teen sex, a topic never even hinted at in Efron's High School Musical series.
Still, this makes me wonder who exactly the film is aimed at: it's too mature for tots and too tame and formulaic for teenagers weaned on Superbad. 17 Again is acceptable fluff, although I'm not sure it's worth leaving the house for. (Disney/Buena Vista)
Kansas City Star
Like his teen idol forebears, Zac Efron will have to transition to adult roles eventually — he can’t make “High School Musical” sequels into his 30s, no matter how good he looks.
Wisely, he has chosen to ease into PG-13 fare with “17 Again,” a comedy that’s slightly edgier than his Disney efforts but won’t alienate the fan base.
Efron plays the 17-year-old version of Mike O’Donnell, played as an adult by Matthew Perry. Grown-up Mike thinks he has wasted his life since his days as a high school basketball star, when he gave up a promising athletic career to marry his pregnant girlfriend.
Now on the verge of divorce and basically estranged from his teenage children (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg), Mike gets a supernatural wake-up call when he mysteriously turns back into his younger self but stays in the present.
With advice from his nerdy friend from childhood, Ned (Thomas Lennon), Mike decides to go back to school and undo the mistakes he thinks he has made, while keeping an eye on his kids. As in the dozens of other movies with similar plots, Mike discovers that the grass wasn’t necessarily greener when he was 20 years younger.
Director Burr Steers also helmed the acerbic “Igby Goes Down,” and he tempers the blandness of the material with a bit of attitude. He and Lennon especially have fun with Ned, who revels in his own outrageous geekiness and sees the world just differently enough to understand what’s happening to Mike.
Efron shows some decent acting skills to go along with his song-and-dance talent, and he walks around shirtless as often as the script can reasonably accommodate (Steers knows his audience).
Leslie Mann, as Mike’s frustrated wife, is unerringly likable. That comes in handy as her character realizes how much this “new kid” her son befriended resembles her husband, leading to borderline inappropriate humor that few other actresses could pull off. The rest of the performers are good, if not spectacular.
That’s an apt description of the movie as a whole. “17 Again” doesn’t offer anything new, and it’s hardly a teen-comedy classic. But it’s an entertaining showcase for its star, and that’s all it really needs to be.
Jacksonville.com/Florida Times Union
"17 Again" knows it isn't going to win a single point for originality - one character even has a little monologue about how this whole's story's been done umpteen times.
But it does know it has one thing going for it: teen idol Zac Efron. So it shows off that boy from beginning to end: shaggy hair, dreamy eyes, etc. Why, in just the first couple of minutes, he plays basketball shirtless and does a saucy dance number with some cheerleaders while beaming those dreamy eyes, which almost look like a special effect.
"17 Again" is a virtual Efronathon, and I can't imagine his fans complaining.
Efron is up to such demands. He has an easy way with the comedy and doesn't seem to be taking himself seriously. The same is true for the movie, to its credit. We learn a few life lessons along with Efron, but they don't make that big a deal about it: It's an undemanding, friendly good time.
Efron plays Mike O'Donnell, a highly recruited high-school basketball star (just go along with us on that) in 1989. Twenty years later, he's grown up to be jowly Matthew Perry, a sad-sack who's lost his job, his wife (Leslie Mann), his two teenage kids and whatever joy for life that he had back in his glory days. For gosh sakes, he even drives a beige Taurus.
Then, through some movie mumbo-jumbo, he's turned into his 17-year-old self, washboard abs and all, but still in the present day.
That gives him the chance to re-enroll in his old high school, watch over his teenagers and hang around at his wife's house, where she thinks it's pretty odd that this new friend looks an awful lot like her husband when he was that age.
Some sparks fly between the teenage Mike and his adult wife, which isn't as creepy as it sounds. But it does start to get creepy when Mike's daughter (Michelle Trachtenburg) prowls after him, given that he's both dreamy and mature (he seems so sincere when he talks about how important sexual abstinence is, after all).
"17 Again" defuses that with some well-placed laughs, though, and we quickly move on.
You might wish the movie had come up with something - anything - new to say about high school. Still, it lopes along agreeably enough, even though it never once goes into emotional or comedic overdrive.
And it does get some laughs in its subplot about Mike's best friend (Thomas Lennon) from the old high school. He was a major geek then, now a rich Internet geek, and he's fallen for the comely principal at the high school (Melora Hardin).
She's not impressed by him - until she learns that they both speak fluent Elvish from "The Lord of the Rings."
Pretty soon they have matching pointy ears. True love.
If Zac Efron really is trying to leave the extremely successful "High School Musical" movies behind him, he could certainly do a lot worse than "17 Again" as a so-called "transition project."
The film still has some things in it that make his fans happy — he dances (but doesn't sing) and he plays basketball, without a shirt on at one point.
And even though he's still not what you'd call a great actor, he does have enough charm to win himself a few new followers here.
As for the film itself, it's definitely familiar and formulaic. Among others, this comic fantasy borrows from "13 Going on 30," "Big" and even "It's a Wonderful Life." But it also has some charm to it as well.
The film's title refers to Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry), who's been failing spectacularly, both in his personal life and professional life, for 20 years. (A once-promising athlete, he married his pregnant high school sweetheart and settled for supposed mediocrity.)
The unhappy 30-something falls into a whirlpool that somehow causes him to revert back to his teenage form (Efron).
Mike is horrified at first, but then he realizes he has a chance to re-live his "golden years." He pretends to be the son of his nerdy but rich pal, Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon), and heads back to school.
He also keeps a close eye on his estranged wife, Scarlett (Leslie Mann), and his two high school student children, Maggie and Alex (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight).
Director Burr Steers and screenwriter Jason Filardi get more mileage out of this material than you'd think. The cast certainly helps there.
They're also smart enough to play to Efron's strengths as a performer. (He does a pretty convincing approximation of Perry's unique mannerisms, for example.)
And in support, Lennon (TV's "Reno: 911!") is a hilarious scene-stealer. A subplot about his character clumsily trying to woo the school principal (Melora Hardin, from "The Office") is so fun you almost wish the whole movie was about them instead.
four out of five stars
Zac Efron takes a lot of heat for singing high-pitched tunes and prancing around on basketball courts in the High School Musical movies, but in 17 Again he finally gets to prove that he's more than Disney's poster boy. Here, he plays Mike O'Donnell, a 17-year-old high school senior with a basketball scholarship on the horizon (not exactly a stretch for the actor). When he discovers that his girlfriend, Scarlett, is pregnant, he finds himself having to choose between marrying her and pursuing college athletics. He chooses the girl.
That was back in 1989. Twenty years later, Mike (now Matthew Perry) finds himself regretting some of those choices. He's now in his thirties, and life has fallen apart. He hates his dead-end job and wishes he would have gone to college. His two teenage kids (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight) have nothing to do with him, and Scarlett (Leslie Mann) is in the process of divorcing him. All the while, his nerdy best friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon), has become an inventor and has more money than he knows what to do with. If only Mike could turn back the clock.
Then his wish comes true. After talking with a mysterious high school janitor, he's magically transformed back into the 17-year-old version of himself. He enrolls back in high school to investigate the lives of his kids, help Ned score a date with the principal, and chase another basketball scholarship. But will he choose a different path for himself this time around, or realize that his "mistakes" were not mistakes, after all?
There's nothing original about 17 Again. The film recycles a premise they've been making over and over since the '70s. And yet its stroll through familiar territory isn't necessarily a mortal sin. Surprisingly, the movie has both amusing and endearing qualities, and far surpasses its sub-par expectations. There are laugh-out-loud scenes -- especially with Ned and the principal -- and scenes with enough romantic sincerity to bring a tear to the eye.
It's easy to dismiss 17 Again as well-worn teenybopper fluff, but there's a shocking level of maturity here. This isn't just a movie for teenage girls searching for new footage of Zac Efron in basketball shorts; it actually works as a high-concept romantic comedy, or even a perfect date movie. Yes, there's enough here to please the pre-pubescent demographic, but it's just enough. There's plenty of depth and material to entertain an older audience, as as you can get past the fact that you're watching a Zac Efron film.
Speaking of Efron, the guy definitely has a career beyond the Disney lot. People will have a new respect for him after this movie. The role of Mike O'Donnell is trickier than his previous work in High School Musical and Hairspray, demanding a wide range of emotions, from slapstick comedy to tearful drama. Confidently, Efron steps up to the challenge and nails it dead-on. Efron is perfect for the role, giving an honest, charismatic performance through and through. He's one of the biggest cinematic surprises this year. Now I'd like to see him in a real dramatic role, perhaps something a little edgier. I just hope his contract with Disney permits it.
The Movie Boy
A limp reverse retread of "Big," "17 Again" not only follows in the wake of that classic 1988 Tom Hanks film, but also pales in comparison to more recent body- and age-switching comedies such as 2003's "Freaky Friday" and 2004's "13 Going on 30." As written by Jason Filardi (2003's "Bringing Down the House") and directed by Burr Steers (who impressed with his 2002 feature debut, "Igby Goes Down"), the picture is all over the map, a heartrending drama about divorce, a morality tale about severed ties between a father and his children, a slapstick farce full of gags involving light-saber battles and "Lord of the Rings" fanaticism, and a thoroughly disposable teen flick all rolled into one. None of the above really work, the intermittent well-meaning material getting lost in a mishmash of poor comic timing, treacly emotions, and broad caricatures posing as human beings.
Twenty years ago, hotshot high school basketball star Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron) threw away the dreams he had for his future in order to support girlfriend Scarlett (Allison Miller) when she revealed to him she was pregnant. Now an unhappy thirty-seven, Mike (Matthew Perry) hates his job at a youth-centric pharmaceutical company, struggles to connect with teen children Alex (Sterling Knight) and Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg), and is going through a rocky divorce with Scarlett (Leslie Mann). After a run-in with a magical janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) and a fall off a bridge into a swirling vortex, Mike wakes to discover that he once again looks like his 17-year-old self. Deciding that the root of all his troubles as an adult can be traced back to the regrets of his past, he enrolls back into high school, tries to befriend his children while learning more than he ever wanted to know about them, and begins to fall in love all over again with Scarlett. Naturally, she is struck by Mike's resemblance to her soon-to-be ex-husband—a fact that makes it increasingly difficult for her to not cross the lawful boundaries between adult and minor.
Due to its unimaginative premise and pedestrian treatment, "17 Again" comes off as one thing only: a flimsy star vehicle for Zac Efron (2007's "Hairspray"). Efron claims he wants to take his career seriously and move away from his Disney-fied "High School Musical" image, but within the movie's first scene he is up to his old tricks, dribbling around a basketball and performing a dance number with surrounding cheerleaders. His body, toned and ripped to look like a Greek Adonis rather than a teenager—Efron is twenty-one in real life—is also gratuitously flaunted in the opening minutes, second in exploitation only to the film's disgusting portrayal of adolescent girls as either mindless whores or needy virgins just waiting to chase their preferred mate around the bedroom while growling like a tigress. The adult women aren't much better depicted, most of them called upon to act like humorless shrews. The movie's male component, come to think of it, are also less than attractive, falling into two categories: thick-necked, brainless bullies and socially inept dorks. Mike is the exception, but not a terribly likable one due to Zac Efron's reliance on striking oh-so-cool poses in every scene rather than wearing the shoes of his downtrodden protagonist.
With the characters a botch job of underdevelopment, director Burr Steer flounders by not spending enough time with any of his subjects and their subplots to make an impression. Mike's physically grown, maturity-stunted friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon), is a millionaire sci-fi geek whose attempts to woo Principal Jane Masterson (Melora Hardin) are so off-the-wall that there's no warming to his weird tactics. The payoff to these unfunny scenes is, surprisingly, funny (it's just about the only thing that is), but also so ridiculous that there continues to be an emotional disconnect. Mike's burgeoning relationship with Scarlett while in his 17-year-old body goes down a predictable path, though the thought of these two doing the deed isn't nearly as queasy as Maggie getting the hots for Mike, unaware that he is her father. Without crossing a line that the PG-13 rating would definitely not withstand, this storyline goes nowhere, is creepy rather than comical, and has no decipherable outcome.
As for adult Mike's troubles in connecting with Maggie and Alex, it is tossed away by the end and doesn't so much as feature one concluding scene between them. It's just as well, since Maggie is written with all the clarity of a smudged phone number written in lipstick. It is established that she is a good student, but then why is she still in high school when she has to at least be 19 years old (Scarlett got pregnant with her twenty years before)? And, for that matter, why is she so cheerfully going out with the biggest bully in school, Stan (Hunter Parrish), when his main mission is to terrorize Maggie's younger brother? That this is never brought up, and that Maggie and Alex do not share so much as one word with each other throughout the running time, is inexcusably neglectful.
"17 Again" is clunky and inept, a bad version of an ages-old premise that nevertheless has a lot of room for invention and creativity. The supernatural janitor who gets the plot rolling is written with such artifice that the viewer can't help but laugh at his very appearance. When humor is intentional, however, the safe bet is that it is going to fall flat or overstay its welcome. Zac Efron fails to impress with his first major headlining role—Matthew Perry (2004's "The Whole Ten Yards") plays the older version of Mike with more depth and less screen time—while game supporting performances from Leslie Mann (2008's "Drillbit Taylor"), Michelle Trachtenberg (2006's "Black Christmas") and Thomas Lennon (2009's "I Love You, Man") are wasted on a tone-deaf, half-written script that does them no favors. Even the forgettable soundtrack chosen here—usually the one reliable element of the teen genre—isn't up to snuff. In bringing "17 Again" to fruition, director Burr Steers should have added some extra doses of charm and realism to the equation. Instead, he's made a fantasy about a high school where few classes are taken, tests are a figment of one's imagination, and the students, all of them stock exaggerations, roam the hallways without a thought in their puny minds. Through it all, Mike's biggest apparent education is on twenty-first century fashion. As for his wife and ungrateful kids, well, let's just hope he doesn't piss them off a second time around.
I try to take an open mind into any movie I see; how can you really judge a movie without watching it first? Despite that, I do catch myself sometimes disregarding movies – because of the first impressions of the plot or the actor. I had that here with 17 Again, a starring vehicle for the new Disney poster boy Zac Efron, with a Freaky Friday twist? Nah, not for me. And yet, surprisingly, it was.
In 1989, Mike O'Donnell (Efron) is the star of his high school basketball team, with a bright future and a college scholarship almost in his grasp. He throws it all away though when he finds out his girlfriend Scarlet is pregnant and asks her to marry him. Twenty years later, Mike (now Perry) finds that his life is falling apart – he's on the brink of a divorce from Scarlet, he's got no real relationship with his teenage kids and he's living with his high school nerd-turned-billionaire best friend, Ned. But Mike gets a second chance when he is magically transformed back to age 17.
The age transformation gimmick has been rehashed so many times in Hollywood: kids wanting to be older, adults wanting to be young again. We've seen it all before – The Parent trap, Freaky Friday, Big. And now 17 Again. Add to that plot lines borrowed from other "teen" movies, like the Back To The Future "must not attract the family member" and you've got a movie that reeks of unoriginality. Regardless of that, though, 17 Again is funny and entertaining. As much as I hate to admit it, that mainly comes because of the likability of Efron. In all previous movies I've seen with him, he comes off as a little too charming, a little too smug; I never got why so many teenage girls were so hysterical about him. But with 17 Again his charisma carries the entire movie. Efron just charms the socks off of you and you can't help but like him.
The rest of the supporting cast are great too. While Perry doesn't get that much screen time, it's his performance at the start of the movie that makes you begin to care for the character of Mike. Most scenes with Mike's friend Ned are hilarious: he has the best pop culture one-liners, his entire house is full of geeky memorabilia, his wardrobe is outrageous and his antics to woo the high school headmistress are awkwardly funny. There's a brilliant scene at the start of the movie where Ned and Mike have fight with Ned's Lord of the Rings and Star Wars props. Mann is great as Scarlet, although she doesn't get as much comedy time as we've seen from her in previous movies.
The only drawback I had with 17 Again is it's wrap-up. After the predictable reveal, the movie ends pretty quickly, giving almost no screentime to the stories of the other characters. 17 Again is a light funny movie, which deserves a wider audience than just hysterical Efron devotees. Yes, teenage girls are going to love it, but there's more in this movie that will attract others too. I was expecting a movie I'd hate, but instead I discovered I actually did enjoy it. 17 Again never reaches the heights of teen classics such as Mean Girls or Clueless, but it's an entertaining 102 minutes.
Big Picture Big Sound.com
Once a genre thought lost to the ages (or at least to the 80s), the body/age switching movie is back. Like its variants, "Freaky Friday", "Big" and the similarly-titled "18 Again", "17 Again" is the story of a man who transforms into his teenaged self in order to change his life for the better. Unfortunately, he's the only one better after the film is over. Looking past the brightness of the film's talented young star, "17 Again" has a mean spirit and a mixed message wrapped in a candy-colored package.
In 1989, Mike O'Donnell seemed to have it all. A high school basketball star beloved by the entire school and by his girlfriend, Scarlett, with college scouts lining up to sign him. But when Scarlett announces she's pregnant just moments before the Big Game, Mike throws away his dreams of college stardom to marry her. Fast forward to now (or nowish, as math is apparently not the writer's strong suit): Mike (Matthew Perry) is a 30-something drug salesman, estranged from Scarlett (Leslie Mann), ignored by his teenaged kids and passed over for promotion at a job he's worked for 16 years. Misery hangs on him like the cocktail bags under Perry's eyes. His life in a shambles, he hides out in the apartment of his nerdy friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon) while blaming Scarlett for forcing him to throw his life away.
After that rather depressing setup, we find Mike visiting his old high school to recapture the glory days of his youth. And, as often happens in these age-reversal movies, a chance encounter with a mysterious figure (in this case, a janitor, played by a Santa-bearded Brian Doyle-Murray) results in Mike's mystical transformation back to his 17-year old self. With the aid of his best friend, Ned — a level 12 sci-fi geek — they determine Mike has been given a giant "do-over" by a spirit guide to set him on the right path. Believing his path is to fix his past mistakes, Mike re-enrolls in his old high school, posing as Ned's son. He soon finds that high school isn't as perfect as he remembers.
Playing Mike as a teenager is a young actor by the name of Zac Efron. Perhaps you've heard of him. After singing, dancing and playing basketball in Disney's "High School Musical" franchise, young Efron leaves the musical behind to stretch out in a role where he...dances and plays basketball. Okay, so he's not ready for Ibsen just yet, but Efron has an undeniably charming screen presence, as millions of tweens can attest. He is, indeed, prettier than his female co-stars, with a kind of non-threatening sexuality that's both utilized and poked fun at in the film. But Efron proves he actually has some acting chops, too, particularly in a scene where he cuts down a school bully in a Cyrano-style barrage of quips and ball-handling skills (insert your own joke here). In fact, the most enjoyable thing about the film is Efron's exuberant, buoyant performance. Without him, "17 Again" is a mediocre, misogynistic offering that looks down upon the very audience it wishes to court.
Considering the predominately young, female audience of this film, it's disappointing that writer Jason Filardi ("Bringing Down the House") and director Burr Steers ("Igby Goes Down") would present a film that is so contemptuous toward its female characters. While Mike and Ned's states of perpetual arrested development are condoned if not celebrated, the women are portrayed as vacuous, bitter or completely lacking in self worth. The adult Scarlett, desperate for positive male attention, is nearly seduced by the young Mike (posing as her son's friend). Their daughter, too, falls for Mike after a few kind words thrown her way in the wake of her breakup with her bullying boyfriend. As unsavory as both scenarios are, the worst is when a young classmate offers herself to Mike with the promise, "you don't even have to remember my name." The only female character with any sense of self is that of the school principal, Jane Masterson (Melora Hardin of "The Office"). But she is an ice queen, a ballbuster. Ned pursues her, stalker-like, with a relentlessness meant to wear her down, which he eventually does.
The issue of sexuality permeates throughout the entire film, in an particularly creepy way. The fact that Efron's character is sexually active is a little difficult to take, considering his Ken doll-like appearance and Disney-fication over the past few years. The sexual tension between the adult Scarlett and the teenaged Mike is also disconcerting, if borderline illegal, not to mention the close encounter with his lusty daughter, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg). Throw in an abstinence speech during a sex ed class plus Mike's encouragement of his son's wooing of the head cheerleader and you have a very mixed message indeed.
As a proving ground for Zac Efron's star power, "17 Again" does its job. Efron is the real deal (like it or not), capable of carrying an entire film on his shoulders. As a family film, it definitely fails. Scratch the surface and there's worms underneath its sweet coating. Say what you will about today's youth, but they deserve to be treated a little better.
Back in 1989, Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry, TV's "Friends") was his high school's star basketball player, but he gave up a shot at a college scholarship to marry his pregnant high school sweetheart Scarlett (Leslie Mann, "Knocked Up"). Twenty years later, with his marriage in shambles and his career going nowhere, Mike (Zac Efron, "High School Musical 3") gets the surprise of a lifetime when he's given the chance to be "17 Again."
Back in the late 80's, we had such age traveling films as "Big," in which Tom Hanks is a little boy who gets an adult body and father/son swaps like "Vice Versa," itself a spin on the mother/daughter reversal of 1976's "Freaky Friday," so the time seems ripe to resurrect the genre with "17 Again," a kind of merging of these films with "A Wonderful Life." Writer Jason Filardi ("Bringing Down the House") follows the genre checklist - an unassuming magical agent (high school janitor Brian Doyle-Murray), a sidekick best friend who's in on the switcheroo, uncomfortable dating situations involving the subject's children - and tries to maintain an internal logic, not always successfully, but director Burr Steers proved agile at directing a quirky ensemble with "Igby Goes Down" and has done it again here. Yes, he gets his money shots out of the way instantly, introducing Efron practicing hoops shirtless, then featuring his dance moves with a bevy of cheerleaders, but then the film falls into its groove and it's a surprisingly sweet confection.
The Mike of 1989 is a true blue boyfriend who abandons the court at his biggest moment to pledge himself to the woman he loves. Twenty years later we learn she's had it with his constant living in the past. We meet Mike of 2009 living with his best friend Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon, "I Love You, Man"), a software guru living in a nerd's dream house and losing a regional sales management position to a woman still wet behind the ears (this last plays nonsensically, a kick to our hero for no other reason than he's down). After a visit to the old high school trophy case and a run in with a vortex, Mike awakens to find his clock's been rewound and after freaking out Ned, convinces him to act as his dad to register him back at school to have his second shot. But Mike finds himself in school with his own kids, daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg, "Ice Princess," TV's "Gossip Girl") and son Alex (Sterling Knight) and discovers instead a chance to become a better dad.
Zac Efron is a good looking kid who exudes a sweetness and a talent for comic timing. This film rests squarely on his shoulders and he proves capable of carrying it. He even pulls off the big climatic emotional moment with tears and feeling. Also charming is Thomas Lennon as buddy Ned, an eccentric fanboy extraordinaire who immediately falls for Mike's principal (Melora Hardin, "27 Dresses," TV's "The Office"). Sterling Knight is a solid new face as bullied Alex, charmingly awkward both verbally and physically when he's not just amusingly resigned ('I'd shake your hand but it's taped to my ass') but Trachtenberg is getting too old to play a high school kid (Efron barely squeaks by and he's two years younger) and has little to do but suck face with Hunter Parrish ("Freedom Writers") as her obnoxious boyfriend Stan. Leslie Mann is OK as the mom who doesn't know what to make of Alex's friend who looks just like her soon to be ex (oddly, she's the only one who ever notices a resemblance, even though Mike ends up with the same basketball coach and his picture is in the high school). Matthew Perry is a surprisingly good physical match for Efron and does what he can with a role that casts him as Prince Charming gone stale for twenty years. Margaret Cho makes a surprise appearance as the school's sex ed teacher.
The filmmakers have some fun contrasting high school of today with two decades past without going overboard. There are subtle changes like the advances in cheerleading on display and not so subtle ones like more blatant sexual behavior. Wise choice painting the 'new' Mike as a 'good' boy preaching abstention while having to fend off teenagers wanting to hook up. Ned's subplot romance is a delight.
Following the recent "Freaky Friday" remake, "17 Again" is a welcome update to an old genre. Efron may still be in High School and may be still dancing, but he's moved a step beyond the Disney comfort zone with his appeal still intact.
The plot of “17 Again” should feel pretty familiar by now: Middle-aged man on the verge of divorce (Matthew Perry) is transformed back into his teenage self (a baby-faced Zac Efron) to contemplate the meaning of life while surviving high school and trying to not bed his daughter (a less convincingly baby-faced Michelle Trachtenburg).
Think a grab-bag combination of the original, George Burns’ “18 Again!”, “Freaky Friday,” “Big,” and any number of less successful wannabes.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant in some ways — “17” knows its place and plays both audiences slickly. For the tweens, there are plenty of scenes in which a dreamy Efron ascends the high school pettiness to save the day before zipping off in a flashy car, flat-ironed hair blowing in the wind. For the tween escorts (and shameless others), there is the constant possibility that old soul Efron is going to blow his cover and make out with his former wife, validating countless creepy “High School Musical” fantasies. Factor in coach Jim Gaffigan, sex ed teacher Margaret Cho and Thomas Lennon as the reluctant friend-turned-guardian, and you’ve got yourself a more than watchable flick.
The only real disappointment here? Efron will totally look like a paunchy Chandler Bing in 20 years.
Tween girls will be happy to know “17 Again” kicks off with a shirtless Zac Efron. But their parents will be even happier to know it’s a movie the entire family can enjoy — for different reasons.
The premise is quite easy to like and even easier to follow. Mike O’Donnell (played by Matthew Perry as an adult and Zac Efron as a teen) had everything going for him as a highschooler in 1989: cool-status, mad basketball skills, a hot girlfriend and a promising sports scholarship. But instead of going with the game, O’Donnell marries his high school sweetheart and twenty years later ends up with a dysfunctional family, a marriage held by a loose thread and a lame job.
To top things off, O’Donnell is now separated from his wife Scarlett (played by Leslie Mann), and living with his extremely nerdy friend Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon) in a house filled with “Star Wars” memorabilia. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse. O’Donnell questions whether he made the right choices in high school and wishes he could somehow make it right.
Sounds cheesy (or like a repeat of ‘Freaky Friday’)? I thought so too — but that was before I had actually seen the film. “17 Again” turned out to be a nice blend of pop culture teen-movie with legitimate doses of emotional moments. In fact, you can be 17 and relate to this movie or 47 and still find ways to connect because let’s face it, most of us remember vividly (or at least think we do) the “good old high school days.”
But when a janitor transforms 37-year-old O’Donnell back into his 17-year-old self (kind of random), there’s a catch: he doesn’t go back in time. Instead, O’Donnell finds himself going back to high school with his kids, and that’s where most of the comedy comes from.
Efron actually does a convincing job of being a middle-aged man stuck in a pubescent body. It’s a pretty smart transition movie for the “High School Musical” actor because he still gets to play the high school heartthrob, only now he has adult dilemmas, which is refreshing.
Once he turns 17, O’Donnell’s relationships with son Alex (Sterling Knight) and daughter Maggie (Gossip Girl’s Michelle Trachtenberg) becomes very entertaining and heartfelt at the same time. There’s just something really funny about seeing Zac Efron promoting abstinence and lecturing high school girls about not being sluts. Still, you can sense that behind the beardless face and Converse shoes, there’s a middle age man who worries about his “little girl” and wants his son to be a hit with the ladies and a pro at basketball.
And I feel weird saying this, but Efron actually shares a great deal of chemistry with Mann, who plays O’Donnell’s wife, and is 15 years Efron’s senior in real life. Of course, there’s almost no action between the two of them, but the pair share funny scenes and multiple movie-magic moments.
At times O’Donnell’s best friend Ned (who pretends to be his dad when he turns into a teenager) steals the scene with his geekyness. He makes the word awkward look like an understatement. Little side note, Ned can speak fluent Quenya (the official language for the elves in ‘Lord of the Rings’) and at one point shares a battle scene with O’Donnell using fake lightsabers.
Clearly this movie won’t win any of its stars an Oscar, but there’s definitely something in it for everyone. Perry probably taught Efron a thing or two about comedic timing because the movie is filled with giggle-worthy moments. And I think it’s not just teen girls that will be saying “aww” by the time the film is over.
So even if you’re not part of the YouTube generation that spreads the word through cell phone videos, or have no idea who K-Fed is “17 Again” can still strike a chord with you.
Mail and Guardian Online
The new sentimental comedy-drama 17 Again is about a tired, squashy-faced, middle-aged man who, through a magic spell cast by a bearded old bear, is transformed into teen twink Zac Efron so that he can have a passionate love affair with an S&M porn star called Chace Crawford.
If only. Actually, no, that's not it at all. And Chace Crawford doesn't even appear.
I think I allowed my mind to wander while watching 17 Again, which is in fact about a tired, squashy-faced, middle-aged man (Matthew Perry) who, though a magic spell cast by a Santa Claus figure masquerading as a janitor, is transformed into Zac Efron and made 17 again so he can set right the mistakes of the past and recover his estranged wife, his children and his dignity.
You wouldn't have thought that being Zac Efron for any length of time (or being 17 again, for that matter) was any way to recover your dignity, unless your dignity has to do with being able to dance rather neatly with some cheerleaders, look good in a tight pair of pants, throw a wild party and pronounce a range of standard homilies on growing up and how much you love your wife.
Efron is undeniably cute, though, and his legion of teen and tween fans will doubtless be little concerned by the hoary vacuity of the moral lessons on offer. They may in fact not have heard before that being yourself is essential (as if there were an alternative), that having children is better than getting a scholarship, that basketball skills are very important (if you're a boy) and that (if you're a girl) having premarital sex with your father is inadvisable, even if he has achieved 17hood and now looks exactly like Zac Efron.
Efron also acquires a new haircut when he gets to be 17 again, which suits him much better than the one he had when he was 17 the first time around, so that's all right.
Underlying all this is the fantasy of a return to youth, of course, a fantasy driven by the pains and regrets of ageing (though Perry isn't that old) and finding out that life doesn't always make all your teen dreams come true. In fact, it makes very few of your teen dreams come true. Yes, you lose your virginity eventually, but even that isn't all it's cracked up to be.
That a return to high school is such an appealing fantasy is a rather endearing and, I suspect, a particularly American idea. It reminds me of the desiccated adults who used to tell you to enjoy your time at school because it would be the best years of your life. Hardly encouraging in itself, that advice -- but, either way, if I were magically transported back to high school in early-1980s South Africa I think I would regard myself as trapped in a horror movie.
It might be even worse if, like the Perry/Efron character, I found my early-40s mind trapped in a 17-year-old body and had to go to school in today's South Africa. Then again, if I could turn into Zac Efron and a passionate affair with S&M porn star Chace Crawford were on offer …
But, once more, my mind is wandering. Consider it a tribute to the power of formulaic American movies that one can identify so strongly with the issues of the Perry/Efron character and be able to apply the moral lessons he learns to one's own life. If only one could be young and beautiful again, filled with hope in the blank slate of the future, with no mortgage or car payments, no job to go to every day, no global warming, no financial crisis gripping the world. I certainly wouldn't waste my time getting my wife back.
Virginian-Pilot (via HamptonRoads.com)
Implausible but altogether pleasant. Slapstick but also humane.
It seems the negatives balance out the positives with the lightweight comedy-fantasy “17 Again.” Add the charisma of today’s teen idol of the moment, Zac Efron, and the balance tips in favor of this movie.
As a vehicle for Efron, who won a legion of female teenybopper fans via the “High School Musical” trilogy, it is not only appropriate, it is somewhat ingenious. Efron faces the difficult task of finding a wider audience while keeping his sweet, young fan base intact. By playing a teenager who is actually his 37-year-old father, Efron gets to look untouched by age while, at the same time, playing some adult trauma. He can be Dorian Gray with no need to hide in the attic.
One of the many implausibilities is that Efron would, or could, turn into someone who looks like Matthew Perry of the “Friends” TV series, even in 20 years. Perry has the thankless job of playing the bad side of all things. He, back when he looked like Zac, was on the brink of a college basketball scholarship when he panicked because, just at tip-off, his girlfriend informed him she was pregnant. He runs off the court. Twenty years later, the couple’s two children are distant brats who have been made that way because Dad neglected them. He gets overlooked for an advancement at his pharmaceutical job. Mom (she of the long-ago pregnancy) is divorcing him, apparently because he keeps harping on his great sacrifice of the past.
But not all is lost. With a plunge off a bridge, apparently engineered by the school janitor, he looks like Zac Efron and can go on one of those “If only I knew then what I know now” trips.
There is a hint of “Big” in reverse (but with none of the real wit) and of the life-affirming qualities of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (but with no real development). The janitor, one supposes, is meant to be a subplot angel, or something, like Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The occasional knockabout slapstick bits keep you from snuggling up to this movie the way you do “Life” at Christmastime.
There are, however, some nice moments for Efron, who comes across in every case as someone who may well outlive teen stardom. He has a funny scene in which he lectures the girls in his class about abstinence (on behalf of his 37 side).
He gets to humiliate the bully who is dating his daughter and to teach his shy son to stand up for himself.
His best scene comes in a courtroom, where he lets Mom, his wife, know that he really did care all that time. It could have been too cornball, but he pulls it off.
Leslie Mann of “Knocked Up” shows no particular flair as the wife-mother who is mysteriously attracted to the teenager who looks like her husband back then. This relationship should have been funny rather than quirky. (The setup is borrowed from “Back to the Future.”)
If you had a daughter, you’d be glad for her to date Zac.
This movie is also that safe.
"17 Again" isn't exactly a remake, insofar as it's not based on any specific movie. But it's certainly a retread, a whacky comedy about an adult magically reverting to a younger version of himself in order to remember what's important in life. This places it firmly in the vein of "Freaky Friday" and "Vice Versa," and it isn't too different from Tom Hanks' "Big."
There's a reason these movies get updated every 10 years or so, receiving face-lifts to anchor them in a new decade and give them a contemporary feel. Wanting a do-over in life is a timeless theme in both literature and movies, and playing up the absurdities of both adult and teenage lives is always good for a laugh or two.
The movie opens with an adult Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) wondering just how his life has gotten so messed up: He has been kicked out of his house by his wife, Scarlett (Leslie Mann), and forced to move in with his dorky best friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon). His children, Alex (Sterling Knight) and Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg), ignore him — and he has been fired from his job as a drug sales rep after 16 years and zero promotions.
It turns out that Mike has always resented the fact that he didn't get to go to college on a basketball scholarship because of Scarlett's unplanned pregnancy. He thinks if he could do it all over again, things would be different and turn out right.
Then, voila! Out of thin air appears a magical janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) who makes it happen. All of a sudden, Mike is de-aged to 17 and played for the rest of the film by Zac Efron.
Mike re-enrolls in high school with the help of Ned (who, in turn, falls head over heels for the principal) and sets about righting the wrongs in his life. He gets in touch with his children to help them sort through their problems and joins the basketball team. However, as time goes on, he realizes he doesn't want some imagined superior life. He wants his old life back.
"17 Again" isn't going to blow away audiences by deconstructing genres or through the bravura performances of its actors. But it is a reasonably entertaining time at the theater, offering something both for youngsters (especially girls) in the form of Mr. Efron and his high school antics and for their parents in the guise of Ned's amorous misadventures and obsession with geek culture.
The role of the cool kid recapturing his game is well-suited for Mr. Efron; he's not asked to stretch his acting skills too far and responds with a charming performance. Miss Mann plays the put-upon housewife with characteristic spunk and wit — and just a hint of sadness.
The hidden gem in "17 Again" is the pairing of Mr. Lennon with the high school's principal, played by Melora Hardin (Jan on "The Office"). The comic timing between the two is a real pleasure to watch.